A Meat Eater’s Guide to Better Health and Greener Eating

Note to readers: I’ve been incredibly busy with studying and taking the GREs while getting my nutrition certificate. Now that I am finished both, I’m back and even more revved up to share my newfound knowledge. Start checking back regularly. And comment! 

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sung the praises of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newest release in his article “More Weight on Less Meat.” Of their Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, Bittman writes that it is “a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well.”

Like many vegetarians, I hardly expect those of us who do eat meat to change into tofu/seitan/tempeh
guzzlers overnight. Yet it is hard to deny the benefits of eating less meat to both our health and environment, so I am with the EWG here. You don’t have to go vegan to do your body and the earth a solid. Carnivores take heed, eating less meat can still significantly and positively impact your health and the environment.

EWG’s full report is about 20 pages long with 3 1/2 pages of references. If this sounds intimidating, they have a handy at-a-glance brochure that summarizes their report in 7 pages that are approachable, understandable, succinct, and most importantly, compelling. The large print and colorful bubbled facts could put even zealous carnivores in a pensive state.

I encourage you to go through this brochure and take a look at the reported facts and figures. Their “lifecycle assessments” measured by environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics are innovative. I do, however, have a  few issues with this brochure. Below are my top three contentions taken from the report that I debate as misleading or incomplete.

Scroll below the debates for helpful resources and more information on certified humane and organic meats, choosing greener seafood, and Whole Food’s GAP animal rating program.

#1: AICR and ADA recommend limiting red meat to 18 oz per week

Page 15 of the full report and page 5 of the brochure

This recommendation does not sit well with me. It says, “The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Dietetic Association recommend limiting red meat to 18 ounces (ADA 2010) a week.” Last I checked, a proper serving size of meat is 3 oz, or about the size of a deck of cards. Basic math tells you that these two major organizations are endorsing eating red meat 6 days a week. And this was the “limiting” recommendation? Throughout the EWG’s report, they tout red meat as most potentially damaging to our health. To be fair, the report does support Meatless Mondays and overall recommends eating less red meat. However, including health warnings almost exclusively about red meat, plus the above AICR and ADA advisement that allows meat 6 days a week, seems like a disconnect of (ahem) meaty proportions. I’m surprised they didn’t realize this overarching contradiction.

#2: Grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meats are hard to find and expensive

Page 19 of the full report and page 6 of the brochure.

The EWG mentions that grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy can be expensive and difficult to find. They don’t explain why! For one thing, over 90% of all animal products are results of factory farming, or, so you’re in the know, they’re also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It follows that the majority of stock in supermarkets and restaurants are also factory farmed meat.

Why are the more ethical and environmentally friendly meats expensive? They aren’t. They are actually the price that meat, egg and dairy should be. It’s the other 90% that is priced incorrectly due to farm subsidies, all stemming from the Farm Bill. It might surprise you to learn that average meat prices (in relative terms to other commodity increases) have actually slightly declined since the 1940s. This is due to grain subsidies begun in WWII and the large-scale production of CAFOs. Can you think of anything else that has not only remained cheap, but has gotten cheaper over 70 years? Now there’s an eyebrow-raiser for you.

#3 Beef has the second-highest emissions, more than twice than pork and four times that of chicken

Page 5 of the full report and page 3 of the brochure.

I don’t dispute the EWG’s findings. Given that cows are by far the largest animals of the group, it’s not entirely surprising. I just find this information incomplete. According to Nicolette Hahn Niman, a public figure against factory farming, cows are actually, by far, the most humanely treated overall in CAFOs. (Don’t get me wrong, there are still problems). The problem is that the report might lead readers to increase their consumption of chicken and pork to “eat greener.” The report needs to make it clear that the numbers reported are for animals (and vegetables) that are conventionally produced (aka in CAFOs and not organic). So, increasing your consumption of CAFO pork and chicken might be “greener” but it is by far less ethical and humane. The EWG does recommend to consume less meat period and, when we do, to eat grass-fed, organic pasture-raised meat, but I fear that people will not make this distinction, merely increasing their poultry and pork intake.

The EWG’s recommendations and my resources to help you follow through:

Where to buy certified humane meat in your area by zipcode

What does certified organic meat mean?

Choosing ocean-friendly seafood by region

Whole Foods’ Global Animal Partnership meat ratings program

More informations on methane emissions and factory farms on AdvocateTaste

2 responses

  1. Pingback: A Meat Eater’s Guide to Better Health and Greener Eating | advocatetaste

  2. A Meat Eater’s Guide to Better Health and Greener Eating.

    The NY Time’s article, “More Weight on Less Meat” by Mark Bittman, is a good starting point for this discussion.

    The article brings awareness of a new brochure from the EWG that allows us all to share our intrepretation.

    Having researched both websites for the ADA and AICR, Samantha is correct to right that their report contradicts itself when recommending no more than 18 oz of red meat a week, while suggesting Meatless Mondays. I can understand why 18 oz is used as a guideline. It’s been awhile since I’ve eaten at steakhouses, but I remember the portions ranging from 6 oz to 12 oz portions. Half pound hamburgers are 8 oz of red meat. The report and brochure must be aiming at the summer meat grillers and fast food restaurant eaters who eat way more than 18 oz of red meat a week. In that respect, 18 oz of red meat would be a diet that cuts back on red meat.
    This is a move in the right direction but still leaves the meat eater thinking they’ve gone far enough in changing their eating habits.

    If the T.Colin Campbell Foundation has their studies and research right, we should be eating no more than 5% of our diet in red meats. How many oz of red meat is 5%? Probably far less than 18 oz a week.

    Until the awareness is raised to a more universal level, the general public won’t understand the importance of diet, red meats, and the impact of CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations).

    About the ease of finding grass-fed,organic pasture-raised meats, I would ask how easy it is to find the “right” make-up or pair of shoes or any item we are fussy about buying. If you want to find a particular kind of meat, I think you should be able to find what you want if you look hard enough. Yes, the price of grass-fed, organic-raised meats might be more expensive; but, what price do you put on the quality of life and the length of your life?

    I don’t have an answer for how the poor and poverty stricken can afford to eat well; but, I know that changing the way money is spent could be cheaper than stopping at fast food restaurants.

    There seem to be opportunities for better nutrition in both government and privately-backed programs for helping poverty-striken areas.

    When I look at the chart included in the ADA/AICR report showing what food has the largest footprint on the environment, I see an accurate statement. What I don’t see is a common sense explanation of what the chart really shows. The chart reminds me of the charts used in standardized testing. An argument for mostly any statement can be supported by information from the chart. What is the most useful interpretation of the pictures of grass, pigs and cows? Where is the organic vs mass produced CAFO’s information subgroup? For instance, the information about cows lumps all cows into one category. I’d like to see a subgroup underneath the main cow bar graph dividing the grass-fed, organic-raised cows from the CAFO raised cows.

    Mark Bittman’s article is a great start for a discussion. Samantha has added her views and I’ve added mine.

    I’d love to know what others think.

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